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Hart, M. (1989). The Arrival of the Bee Box: Poetry and Mental Mechanism. Brit. J. Psychother., 5(4):564-573.

(1989). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 5(4):564-573

Prize Essay

The Arrival of the Bee Box: Poetry and Mental Mechanism

Melanie Hart

In Jeremy Holmes's interesting paper ‘The language of psychotherapy: metaphor, ambiguity and wholeness’ (Holmes 1985) he illustrates the characteristics of analytic language by comparing poetry and psychoanalysis. The context of his discussion is the view … ‘that psychoanalysis, whatever its scientific aspirations, is fundamentally a linguistic or interpretive discipline, primarily concerned with meaning rather than mechanism’. He suggests further that ‘… metaphor, standing transitionally (Winnicott 1971) between the entirely unspoken private thought and the generalisation, is poetic and analytic truth. … A consequence of this viewpoint is that analytic theory becomes not so much a body of objective knowledge as a set of rules and guidelines for interpreting transferential metaphors … theory is a language for describing the experience of therapy’.

Considering these ideas in relation to my work with a very disturbed young patient, I wondered whether it might be possible, through an interpretation of metaphor, to locate in certain sorts of poetry some of the mental mechanisms described in analytic theory which seemed relevant to her way of being. Those that interested me are central to the hypotheses about mental functioning in the paranoid-schizoid position and manic depression put forward by Melanie Klein (Klein, from 1935 onwards) and Wilfred Bion's amplification of these. In particular, I was interested to explore Bion's observations of psychotic processes, especially his descriptions, so difficult to grasp, of the vicissitudes of the senses and of verbal thought (mutilation, compression and agglomeration) under the impact of projective identification (Bion 1956, 1957 and elsewhere), and the notion of the need for containment.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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